MoMA
June 28, 2013  |  Collection & Exhibitions, Design
Video Games: Seven More Building Blocks in MoMA’s Collection
Ralph Baer. Magnavox Odyssey. 1972. Manufactured by Magnavox

Ralph Baer. Magnavox Odyssey. 1972. Various materials. Purchase

Quite a lot has happened since we announced the first 14 video games to enter the MoMA collection, seven months ago. MoMA Architecture and Design curator Paola Antonelli charmed Stephen Colbert, the exhibition Applied Design (featuring the games) opened to the public, and a heady debate raged regarding MoMA’s move into this field. For more on this, watch Paola’s recent TED talk. While all this was occurring, we continued the work of acquiring more games from our wish list.

Today, we are thrilled to announce the addition of one gaming console and six more video games to our collection. These include works from the early pioneers Atari, Taito, and Ralph Baer, and from the comparatively young Mojang. The new additions are:

Magnavox Odyssey (1972)
Pong (1972)
Space Invaders (1978)
Asteroids (1979)
Tempest (1981)
Yar’s Revenge (1982)
Minecraft (2011)

Allan Alcorn. Pong. Tomohiro Nishikado. Space Invaders. Lyle Rains, George “Ed” Logg. Asteroids

From left: Allan Alcorn. Pong. 1972. Publisher: Atari, Inc., USA. Gift of Atari Interactive, Inc. © 2013 Atari, Inc.; Tomohiro Nishikado. Space Invaders. 1978. Publisher: Taito Corporation, Japan. Gift of the Taito Corporation. © 1978 Taito Corporation, all rights reserved; Lyle Rains, George “Ed” Logg. Asteroids. 1979. Publisher: Atari, Inc., USA. Atari Interactive, Inc. © 2013 Atari, Inc.

Ralph Baer’s Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game system and a masterpiece of engineering and industrial design, introduced electronic games to the American public. In the same year, a young and ambitious Nolan Bushnell founded Atari (where, by the way, an equally young and at least equally ambitious man named Steve Jobs first found employment). Atari rapidly became the most famous video game company in the world, and in an amazingly fertile period produced one seminal work after another. Concurrently, the already rich arcade culture of Japan was turned on its head with the release of Taito’s Space Invaders, a game that so captivated the Japanese public it led to a temporary nationwide shortage of 100-yen coins. When Space Invaders finally made it to the U.S., it conquered the arcade industry. The last work on our list is Mojang’s Minecraft, a fascinating game that combines multiple genres into one sprawling, unpredictable, and utterly addictive masterpiece.

David Theurer. Tempest. Howard Scott Warshaw. Yar's Revenge

From left: David Theurer. Tempest. 1981. Publisher: Atari, Inc., USA. Gift of Atari Interactive, Inc. © 2013 Atari, Inc.; Howard Scott Warshaw. Yar’s Revenge. 1982. Publisher: Atari, Inc., USA. Gift of Atari Interactive, Inc. © 2013 Atari, Inc.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Ralph Baer’s place in the birth of the industry, as well as the significant roles Atari, Taito, and Mojang still play. The work of the designers of those early games became the building blocks of a new form of creative expression and design language; blocks upon which contemporary designers like Markus “Notch” Persson and his fellows at Mojang are building to make works that push the medium to wildly new, fascinating, and weird places.

Markus "Notch" Persson. Minecraft. 2011. Publisher: Mojang, Sweden. Gift of Mojang. © 2013 Mojang

Markus “Notch” Persson. Minecraft. 2011. Publisher: Mojang, Sweden. Gift of Mojang. © 2013 Mojang

In the infancy of this field a small number of visionaries laid the groundwork for where we are now: an industry of tremendous range and creative output. If I have learned anything in this process it’s that the early, seemingly simple games remain as vital and compelling today as they were when we played them in the cacophonous arcades or on the living room floors of our youth.